What Mike Grehan of SES Incisive Media Should have said

Yesterday I thought I would start 2011 hitting the ground running and start blogging again.

Little did I know that I would incur the wrath of the Vice President of one of the biggest publishers and conference providers of the SEO industry.

When I wrote a few lines of my experience of SES London a couple of years ago within my post about Which SEO Conference should I go to. I didn’t think for one minute I would get such a histrionic response from such a high up executive from one of the largest B2B publishers that is Incisive Media

Indeed, as Mike pointed out in his comment quite clearly, he is the Vice President of Global Content which seems to cover leading industry websites such as SES Conference Expo, Search Engine Watch and ClickZ. Making Mike one of the most powerful movers and shakers in the SEO world.

In contrast, I’m very tiny, smaller than a “tiny grain of salt”, which Mike said is how my post should be taken. Although I run a small but highly effective link building agency and am very good at what I do, I do not have the power and connections which the Vice President of Global Content at Incisive media has.

So it was to my surprise that such a high ranking company executive would come to my humble blog to rant and rave about how insignificant I was. Fortunately I have an Elephantine thick skin and such school yard nonsense rolls like a water off a ducks back. In fact, I found his bombastic comment to be highly amusing.

But something niggled.

What if I wasn’t so dismissive of such boorish behaviour? What if I didn’t have a thick skin? And then I realised that Mike was actually displaying classic bullying tactics. Not that I felt in the slightest way bullied at the time, it really was and is a storm in a teacup. But, when you wield so much power in the industry you need to behave a little different than if you were in a World of Warcraft chat room.

Another blogger may have been quite intimidated at such comment, which resulted from mild criticism of an SEO conference which happened two years ago.

And that is what niggled.

I don’t like bullies.

I don’t like people who throw their weight around and get on their high horse to gob on the little people. Because other more sensitive bloggers are going to read this and think twice when giving a negative, but honest opinion of an SES conferences. You hardly want Mike and his gang turning up in your comments with verbal baseball bats if you are a meek and mild waif from Chipping Sodbury.

Apparently Mike does have previous form for this kind of behaviour, when I tweeted about this yesterday a few people DM’d me with juicy stories.

Which I’m saving for a future post.

And that is the point.

Social media has created a new playing field.

Gone are the times when powerful executives can instantly silence critics with a few aggressive words.

It’s changed the dynamic of reputation management.

What’s important about this is not how I feel, who gives a toss, right. But how quickly a brand can be tarnished with the erratic behaviour of one of its representatives. Not that I feel that Incisives’ brand has been tarnished. It’s far too big and powerful a corporation for that.

But, what gets posted on the Internet, stays on the Internet.

Such negative outbursts can have a drip drip effect on your brand. Although I doubt anyone took my comments that seriously. They were after all one persons view of London SES and ironically I think SES London does a fine job of putting on a conference and has some great speakers. I simply wished that more of the speakers of the conference I went to were British and less of them American, which for some people seemed to be an heretical opinion.

After that first post on my views of the conference I was half expecting to get the, “after we saved your asses in World War 2 you should be grateful.”

And of course this comes after the Gulf disaster when millions of gallons of British Oil became polluted with American shrimp.

For those who didn’t get it, the above two sentences were ironic and not meant to be taken seriously.

But the problem remains, how do you respond to negative criticism of your product, service or brand online.

This leads me to the headline of this post.

What Mike Should have said.

He should have said something like,

“Whilst I respect your right as a attendee of SES London to express your full and frank opinion I absolutely and utterly disagree with your characterisation of what you experienced. Whilst it may be true you saw what you saw, the majority of the conference attendees found the overall experience of London SES to be useful, interesting, and well worth the admittance price. We value every attendee who visits our conferences and attempt to deliver the best possible conference experience we can muster.

Please accept our apologies for any deficiency in our desire to deliver the best SEO conference experience London can get and give us another chance to show you how good we are. To this end I am sending you two free passes to a show of your choice.”

Can you see the difference between that and, “I recommend that any reader of your post take it with the tiny grain of salt it’s hardly even worth.” Which is part of the comment which was left.

When dealing with a critic never get personal, it’s silly and will make your organisation look shabby and purile.

It’s simply a case of being:

  • Courteous
  • Firm
  • Clear
  • Professional
  • Open to all criticism
  • Expressing a desire to deliver amazing customer service
  • Valuing all opinion (even when it’s from a numpty like me)

If you have mission statement of striving for customer excellence, then make sure it’s known.

Absolutely confront your critics and even post on their blog, but the aim is to negate further negative comments and ultimately turn the critic into a raving fan.

By using social media you can quickly and effectively nip in the bud any tarnishing of your brand, but it has to be handled in a specific way and not like your some drunken gob-shite in a bar room brawl.

A few people may respect you if you come over like a rabid fan at a cage fighting expo, and indeed the tone of my blog can be that of a scabrous old hag who nips away at its targets with the one snaggled tooth left in her head. But, that’s this blog. I don’t represent a huge publishing corporation.

If anyone thinks, “who the hell are you to be gobbing off with your manky old blog?” You are probably right, I am but a humble blogger who has a very small, but highly effective link building agency. This blog is absolutely a skanky example of someone who does not have the time nor inclination to update the design or properly implement SEO on it.

But I feel I don’t really need to.

I have no problem with being honest about my own and my blogs failings. What’s important to me and I think to a lot of people is credibility and authenticity.

The immediacy and hard light of social media enables us to sniff out the bullshitters. You can actually get quite far in life by bullshitting and crawling up the odd arseole, but I don’t have the skill set for that.

So I simply have to rely on telling it how it is and hoping people take it on face value. Of course I am not naive to believe that you can’t get somewhere in life by not greasing the tracks, one has to only cast a quick gaze and the sycophancy and cliques that inhabit the SEO world to see that it helps. As it does in any other sector, it’s human nature to gravitate to people who share similar opinions and who only say nice things about you.

But, nepotistic behaviour exists to negate excellence.

And people do notice.

Now, some may say I am simply going to “lose friends and alienate people”, as Mike mentioned in his comment. I am not sure if he is saying,” be friendly towards me and don’t alienate me and I will give you goodies”, which appears to be the subtext of what he is saying.

And indeed, I do seem to be getting out the can of petrol and burning bridges, which will probably get banned from SES or at least never invited to speak at SES London.
But, is that really who it works? I would have thought people were chosen on their ability to deliver a highly rewarding and interesting presentation than on their ability to kiss ass and make friends. Isn’t that how a great conference experience is created.

If I’m told, “well you really are a crappy presenter and know nothing of what you speak about”. Which is a point that some may agree with, although I have spoken at a number of SEO conferences such as SMX London,twice, plus I gave a one and a half hour training sessions on social media at SMX, also presented at A4u and SASCON and been invited to hold numerous social media and link building training workshops.

So, I’m not really worried in that side of my ability. But I guess I am not going to win the kiss ass of the year award.

I have written quite a few words on this subject, mainly because reputation management is crucial in this “instant publish” world of social media we live in and I hope I have highlighted and interesting case study on how not to behave when you feel you are under attack.

Mikes’ comment did raise a number of issues that are quite interesting and need to be explored. So in the next few days I will be regularly posting regarding this subject and as London SES is coming up, highly topical.

To be clear, please don’t let this post affect your decision to go to London SES or any other conference. My reaction is simply about the way my view was handled. It’s a great SEO conference and a lot of respected people speak there and share good stuff. It can be a highly valuable experience and a great networking experience and as I said in my post, the good stuff gets talked about in the bar afterwards as the presentations tend to give away knowledge you can pick up on blogs, which I hardly think is a revelation.

But, who has time to read SEO blogs?

How Not to Upsell your Product – or How WHSmiths and Waterstones degrade their brand

Recently I bought a great book on human behaviour and how to gently influence people from Waterstones book shop, called Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (a middle initial always makes you seem more authoritative). It looks to be a cool book, but what I most remember about the encounter is the interaction with the person handling my sale.

After they took my order they asked me if I wanted to buy from a stack of books on the counter. I didn’t get the name of the book, but it had a soft, gentle, pastel cover with flowers and a stylised image of a young girl. The writer was female and the book cover evoked a feeling of walking through tall wheat with Keira Knightly, whilst bees went about their gentle work. Not the kind of book I would ever be interested in.

There is an internet marketing point in here, just hang on a minute. I’m creating a parallel narrative.

I looked at the sales person and saw the fear in her eyes. The fear that said, “If I don’t offer you this book, my management speaking-well groomed boss will sack me.”

Would Waterstones really sack a member of staff because they didn’t try to get me to buy “chicklit”?

Who knows, but you do see a dribble of humanity leave a member of staffs body each time this poor attempt at upsell happens. Which leaves a stain on the floor behind the counter.

The internet marketing point of this article is about the upsell. It is an incredibly powerful and profitable way to get sales. But the way WH Smith – who seem to think that stuffing chocolate down the gobs of the British Public is somehow going to lead us to spiritual enlightenment – employ the upsell is atrocious and leaves me lamenting the humiliation of their staff.

When you buy something online, you are in the mood, in the zone for other stuff that solves the same or similar problem that is on your mind, so if you buy an ebook on linkbuilding it makes perfect sense to upsell to a link building tool or offer link building services.

Of course, WH Smiths and Waterstones may have conducted studies that 5% of people when buying a copy of Top Gear will also buy a huge bar of Galaxy chocolate. Thus increasing profits.

But what about the 95% who don’t buy?

What if someone blogs about this fact?

What if that blogger, also tweets about it.

What if a journalist reads that blog and decides to rip off the writer and give no atributation and rewrite the article as their own, (surely journalists would never do such an unethical thing) and publish it in their widely read Sunday Paper column which they later turn into a book which ends up at WHSmith and when you try to buy it you also get offered a huge bar of Galaxy chocolate?

There is another direction I could go with this about cheapening a brand, but I have a new chicklit novel to read whilst eating a huge bar of Galaxy chocolate.

Diggs for Sale

Maybe this post should read, “Digg for sale”.

A few thoughts on what is happening on digg.

First, I’m not following the current convo regarding the latest changes at digg closely as there will be a period of flux where nothing of worth really settles. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great, geeky, soap opera and if you have the time it beats having to watch the coffee dribbles on your wall harden in the warm sun.

Most of the people I follow about the subject are the professional diggers who have made a career out of pushing stories to the top. I of course push my own stories to the top and over the years have realised how much most of the social bookmarking sites are quite easily gamed. Mostly in an ambiguous nod from the owners of the sites.

Whilst the owners of these site publicly castigate such practices, they actually need professional social bookmarkers as they provide them with quality content. If it’s an infographic it’s usually been created by professionals. Which I think reveals the extent of the operation.

So, why is this important.

Well, if you are not getting a piece of the action, then you are missing out on a big chunk of online marketing. It’s a relatively small group who control 80% of social bookmarking action. It’s really no different than getting stories in newspapers which are sympathetic to a specific brand or product.

But right now, digg is in turmoil in the sense it is not yet clear how to promote. Which is why I think it’s not worth following the story. In a few weeks it will be clear which wheels need to be greased, but right now, I’m off on holiday and hopefully when I come back it will be sorted.

However, digg only represents one entity and there are many others to promote your website at.

What Dan Raine Taught me about SEO Agencies

I was watching a Dan Raine presentation in the wee small hours of the morning. And I realised what seo agencies are about.

Or rather what they are not about.

It’s something that has been niggling me for a while and I probably haven’t raised it because a lot of my clients are seo agencies.

SEO agencies don’t do cutting edge.

I think I’ve been to all the seo conferences in the UK and you hardly ever get a presentation that is cutting edge from an agency.

Which is fine.

They are about delivering what is mainstream, stuff like buing links from newspaper websites and the like.

They are also about managing the client, which obviously is an important part of the equation.

But the client will get in the way of implementing cutting edge techniques as most are new and highly experimental and there are little or no case studies around.

Also, most clients have not the time nor the industry knowledge to be taught about these cutting edge techniques, let alone being sold them and so the seo agency falls back on the tried and tested.

And there is nothing wrong with the tried and tested.

This is not a criticism of seo agencies, it’s merely a realisation of their place in the Internet Marketing food chain.

A lot of businesses need the tried and tested and have deep pockets to pay for it.

But people like Dan Raine are a couple of jumps ahead on the evolutionary scale of Internet Marketing.

If you are in the industry, when he speaks, you should listen.

But you probably wont.

You don’t have time.

What you do right now works for you.

You have to tweet about your new iPhone 4 (and how best to hold it)

But I will be listening and applying a few of his cutting edge techniques.

They certainly work for linkbaiting.

Why Am I Bad at SEO?

I have to confess, I am really bad at optimising my web pages. And the reason is this,

“It’s not knowledge that holds most people back in SEO, it’s Implementation”.

… which was something I tweeted a couple of hours ago whilst reading an seo forum. I have to say, link builder, Debra Mastaler and Aaron Wall really get the grey matter working.

The reason I say I am bad is that the optimisation of my pages do not match the knowledge I have in my head. Although the knowledge is of value, it’s only realised when implemented.

The reason it’s not implemented is because I can generally get away with it as I focus primarily on building exceptional content and getting links to it than optimising web pages. It works so well that the optimisation part simply gets pushed aside.

Not to say that I don’t have the urge once in a while. In the past few weeks I have looked at clients seo structure and relised a tweak here and a tweak there and their traffic will triple. But I kept quiet because creating content about 10 Kittens on Crack go on Holiday to Amsterdam is far more interesting that trawling keyword analysis and building hub pages with a little bit of linkable content and then arguing with the IT dept of said client.

You know how it is.

Something has to give, you can’t do everything.

So the answer to the question, why am I bad at SEO? It’s because I am good at something else.

Why is this important to you?
It’s very important to know what you are good at, what you are passionate about and not get sidetracked into being something you are not.

If it’s working for you, ignore the critics and just keep on with it.